An Entrepreneur with Serious Flavour

Janet Zuccarini

Janet Zuccarini

Globetrotter, wonder woman, entrepreneur, foodie – any one of these could describe Janet Zuccarini. The brains behind some of Toronto’s most successful restaurants, she is all of these and then some. I consider Zuccarini a trailblazer. Call it a slow burn. Her Trattoria Nervosa celebrates its 20th anniversary next month, but over the past four years Zuccarini has made an indelible mark on Toronto’s restaurant scene by opening Gusto 101 off King West and Pai in the entertainment district. She’s also launched a restaurant group, Gusto 54, and has plans for two more Toronto dish spots – Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen and an east side Gusto 101 location. Now she has set her sights on L.A. with Felix, a “coming-soon” collaboration with executive chef Evan Funke.

Nervosa has been a constant of mine since landing in Toronto 14 years ago, where I’ve enjoyed countless meals and one memorable Drake sighting. I first met Janet at a fashion week luncheon held at the old Four Seasons, and not long after, I got to know her over glasses of Veuve at a Teatro Verde event. (I know, I know, such is the life sometimes.) As an entrepreneur I was captivated by her quiet drive and enthusiasm. It’s unusual to see a successful restaurateur who’s neither a chef nor a celebrity – although she’s orbiting close to becoming the latter. Moreover, it’s frankly unheard of for a woman to be such a dominant force in such a male-dominated industry. Zuccarini has no partners, no backers and owns her restaurant real estate. This lady could drop the mic any moment now.

An inspiration? A role model? Feminine force of nature? Yes, yes. All of these and still more. I have a feeling Janet Zuccarini is just getting warm.

There aren’t many other women growing a restaurant empire — how does that feel?

I’m proud of the fact that I am a woman doing this in a very male-dominated industry. I never worked in any other restaurant other than my own, so I have always written my own rules. I think that has allowed me to think outside of the box.

You’re very driven — how do you find balance between work and personal life?

I like to say that I paid my dues in the early days when I worked 16 hour days, six days a week, working every position in the restaurant. Once I had some money in the bank, it was time to work smart which meant building a team around me. That allowed me to truly run it, as opposed to being inside of it working as a technician. For years now, I have been able to focus on being the visionary for the company, removing myself from the day-to-day operations, which has been the key to leading a balanced life.

What led you to diversify into other cuisines like Thai and Jamaican?

I’m now running the company in a very intuitive way, leaving myself open to new opportunities I probably wouldn’t have been open to or ready for years ago. We have built systems and procedures that can be applied to any hospitality business. Pai was about backing Jeff and Nuit Regular who are mega talents in the business, but needed support on the back-end. Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen comes from my love of Jamaica and Jamaican food. I see the opportunity for this cuisine to be updated and made more relevant.

Who are your role models that inspire you in business?

Danny Meyers comes from a business background, as do I and is also driven by his passion for this business. Although I’ve never met him, I feel we are kindred culinary spirits. He’s my number one role model.

What’s your advice for young entrepreneurs?

You cannot be risk averse. If you need a steady pay cheque, don’t be an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur you have to do whatever it takes, which may mean going without a pay cheque and moving back in with your parents – both of which I did.

What’s the best thing about Toronto in your opinion?

I am very proud that I come from a city that is so multicultural and integrated. I know it has influenced me in feeling comfortable to open up such diverse restaurants.

 

 

Goals Vs Dreams

Dominique Faget/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The Ultimate Achiver photo by Dominique Faget/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Goals. Most of us have them. Let’s be clear, I’m not talking dreams – those lottery fantasies that play out in your mind as escapism. I’m talking goals with real purpose behind them.

The difference is goals are dreams with a deadline.

This weekend I will set out to accomplish a big goal I set for myself in April – to run the Nike Women’s 15K. Now, I’ve been running on and off since high school cross country and have participated in a few 5K runs in the recent past, but signing up for a 15K was a big, spontaneous move. No peer pressure. Just me, alone one night with a glass of wine and an innate need to challenge myself.

I had a deadline. My question was how do I get there? As a teacher, I have shared the S.M.A.R.T. system with my students. Setting goals is easy, but achieving them requires starting with the right methodology: they must be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Sensitive. Luckily I’m a natural planner, so I began by researching training programs that fit my ten week timetable and mapped workouts into each week of my calendar.

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Having inspiration to keep me on track was important. I reached out to someone I follow on social media, Heather Gardner, the founder of Tribe Fitness, for insight on developing a successful training regimen. “Definitely creating a long range plan keeps me focused,” says Gardner. “Running with a crew also keeps me motivated. I consider Tribe to be my accountability partners. Many of us have similar goal races, so whether it’s training for a marathon or triathlon there are folks who need to get in the same workout on a similar day. You might consider skipping a workout for yourself, but certainly would never stand up a friend.”

You might consider skipping a workout for yourself, but certainly would never stand up a friend.

Robin Altman, founder of Radiate Coaching, echoed the need for having a plan, but noted that a personal connection to the goal is just as relevant. “The key thing about setting a goal is that it be important and meaningful to you personally, and that you’re on purpose in achieving it. The second is to create structures that help you feel a sense of joy in the process or journey itself.”

In my case I’ve balanced my solo morning runs with group fitness classes that allowed my to revel in my increasing strength and endurance. Days of rest were welcomed as they usually are in my world – with lots of food, friends and a great cocktail. And as a result the more I trained, the more I naturally enjoyed the training.

So what’s next? A half marathon? Or do I use this methodology to focus on other personal goals? Or can it be all of the above? Altman advises, “Take some time to consider what’s important about the goal for you, what will you have when you achieve it, how it will make your life better, what personal strengths and talents will you use to be successful.”

And then, like Nike says, Just Do It.

F-Listed: Candice & Alison Events Group

Candice & Alison photo by George Pimentel

Candice & Alison photo by George Pimentel

As a marketing professional and now a college professor of marketing, the number of diverse career paths one can take fascinates me. Take the event planning business – there are wedding planners, meeting planners, corporate event planners and then, there’s Candice & Alison.

Alison Slight and Candice Chan combined talents in 2009 to create the Candice & Alison Events Group. After pursuing careers separately in event planning, fashion design and marketing, these two Ryerson University grads reunited with a mission to do their own thing. Starting a new business in the midst of a major recession is bold, but starting a luxury events business? Some would call it crazy.

But it worked. Within a few years BizBash Magazine named Candice & Alison one of North America’s most innovative event designers. Of all the events they’ve done – luxury weddings, corporate events like Sharp’s Book for Men party, gala fundraisers like the Right to Play Ball, Power Ball and most recently, the Bata Shoe Museum 20th anniversary – it is the party they planned in honour of their own 5th year anniversary that takes the cake.

“I’m most proud of that event,” gushes Chan. The glitzy party, dubbed #CversusA, showcased Candice & Alison’s level of creativity and high standards of execution. And if their individual work ethic is the same – driven, highly professional – their personal styles are anything but. Slight, the managing director, is a prim and polished morning person. Edgier Chan, the creative director, is a night owl. Their yin and yang became the design inspiration for the event. Festivities kicked off in an elegant all-white theme created by Slight, followed by a dark and sexy rooftop patio party designed by Chan.

#CversusA 5th anniversary bash

#CversusA 5th anniversary bash

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#CversusA 5th anniversary bash

“We make every detail a priority from the level of decoration to hospitality. It is always important for guests to be impressed and to feel special.”

Event planning always starts with the client, who has some kind of vision and a purpose for their event. Is it to showcase a new product? To sell? To celebrate? “We have to turn that into something feasible for the event, and manage expectations and priorities along the way,” says Chan. For the Bata Shoe Museum’s 20th anniversary party, the client’s vision was an unexpected discovery through the museum. Candice and Alison brought that vision to life from start to finish – entrance, decor, food, entertainment and most importantly – at least as far as social media is concerned — opportunities for the guests to engage live with the event. “We make every detail a priority from the level of decoration to hospitality. It is always important for guests to be impressed and to feel special.”

Bata Shoe Museum 20th anniversary | photo by Ryan Emberley

Bata Shoe Museum 20th anniversary | photo by Ryan Emberley

What’s rule number one of event planning? Speak the same language as your client. If they want the colour pink, for example, know the precise shade down to the Pantone number. If a client wants Art Deco-inspired décor, make sure everyone is in agreement on exact Art Deco elements. This is why mood boards, renderings and floor plans are the tools of every event planner’s trade – as are comfortable shoes! Here’s more from Candice and Alison:

F-List: What are three ingredients that make a party great?

A: Good food & beverage, the guests.
C: Agreed, it’s the same basic rules as any great house party. The ingredients never change, only the scale and occasion do.

What’s a big event no-no?

C: Line-ups! Ensure there are enough staff at the event for registration or coat check, or invite only a guest count that is manageable.
A: Bright lighting. Lighting makes a big difference in people’s mood and in the way they interact. It should be dim but just bright enough to capture the environment and adjusted over the course of the evening as the party evolves.

What would be your dream event to plan?

A: It would definitely be a wedding or high end gala as they offer a much bigger opportunity for decorative elements. I love the idea of doing something really over the top and romantic in a countryside French Chateau.
C: The Met Gala!

My F-Listed profile series gets up close with leaders across retail, marketing and technology. Know a good candidate? Contact me leesa at divinelab dot com.

School is In

April has been a busy month for fashion schools. As the semester inched to a close, graduating design students spent their last weeks frantically wrapping up final collections for the runway.

Student fashion shows are a common event around Toronto thanks to a number of secondary schools with fashion design programs. Ryerson University hosts the largest and the oldest student-run show with Mass Exodus (shout out to Pay Homage by Anabel for the photo below). It blends three fashion programs in carrying off the event from front of house to back. Fun fact – it’s also one of the few (only?) fashion shows to occur in a hockey arena.

Mass Exodus

Seneca, Humber and George Brown Colleges also exhibit student work through runway shows and exhibitions. Showcasing your fledgling brand is an important step as a young designer. I worked with London, Ontario’s Fanshawe College for many years as a guest judge during their annual student show, UNBOUND.

Winning academic accolades for a collection can often kick start a career. Sebastian Guarin, who won Best Collection at Fanshawe in 2014 explained. “Winning the David Dixon Award for Best Collection helped validate my point of view as a designer,” he said. “And helped get my foot in the door…in terms of legitimate recognition.”

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Atelier Guarin

As a student designer, figuring out how to translate your design vision into great looking clothes is only part of your task. These shows often bring out high profile industry professionals who have both advice and opportunity to share. It’s on the student to take advantage of these networking opportunities. With a little perseverance they can earn a leg up to start their own label, as Sebastian found in launching Atelier Guarin  after graduation. “I was able to feel part of the industry right away,” Guarin noted.

Not all fashion industry leaders recommend starting a label fresh out of school. Steven Kolb, the CEO of Council of Fashion Designers of America, has been advising students to work for someone else for at least six or seven years before starting their own brand. Essentially, he’s suggesting they learn the business on someone else’s dime. The business of fashion.

That phrase, the business of fashion, is getting a lot of play these days. There’s good reason. Central Saint Martins captured the state of the industry well:

“With the explosion of new media over the last 10 years, the fashion industry has been democratized. Opportunities in fashion are no longer primarily focused on the role of designer.”

Things are changing, and they’re changing at warp speed. Fashion has been blown wide open with the influx of Wall Street finance and Silicon Valley technology. The conversation on global supply chain is gaining more traction that should help bring accountability to fast fashion. In a few years the entire retail sector – and perhaps even the fashion calendar – may look vastly different.

Enter Centennial College’s Fashion Business & Management program. Full disclosure: I was not paid for this article, but I am a paid employee of Centennial as program coordinator and part-time professor. This program is the reason I am.

The two-year Fashion Business & Management diploma program will teach students how to demonstrate business acumen across finance, communications, human resources and ethics. As well, students will drill down into all areas in the lifecycle of fashion – product development, sourcing and manufacturing, retail, marketing and media. Every step of the way the way they’ll experience the latest innovations in technology and sustainability. In fact, every student enrolled in the program will receive a brand new iPad.

We are committed to bringing relevance to our curriculum with program advisors and faculty who are who still embedded in the industry. These individuals have diverse experience – from Odessa Paloma Parker, fashion editor at The Globe and Mail – who also helped bring this program to life last year – to Tomas Romita, founder of MADE Custom Clothing.

Tomas Romita, founder of MADE Custom Clothing

Tomas Romita, founder of MADE Custom Clothing

Last week we enlisted the help of more advisors to be in a soon-t0-be-released video touting the program. It featured Shopgirls owner Michelle Germain, industry vet Marlene Shiff, designer Jennifer Fukushima and factory owner Kathy Cheng. (See it first! Stay tuned to the @TheFList on Twitter and Instagram.) I’ll share more about our other program advisors and faculty soon.

This is an exciting phase in fashion, and I’m quite proud to help further the education of the industry’s next generation. Check out the program detail on Centennial’s website and stay tuned to the F-List for new developments.

For more information on Centennial’s Fashion Business & Management program and admission requirements, click here. Have a specific question? Feel free to contact me directly at lbutler at centennialcollege dot ca.

What Your Start-Up Can Learn from a Jazz Band

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis & the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

Last night I caught a spectacular performance at Massey Hall from a  modern treasure in jazz, Wynton Marsalis. Heading up the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Marsalis led the band in classic renditions from Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and more. During the show it occurred to me how similar a jazz band is to a start-up company.

1. Every player is important. Every player is important to the overall sound, not one instrument is extraneous. In a start-up environment, keep your team tight and make sure each member is contributing something valuable. It doesn’t matter how big or small your team is – last night’s jazz was just as spectacular whether it was five or 15 people playing. Every person offered something unique and they knew it.

2. Each player is allowed – and expected – to shine. In jazz, each band member is offered a few moments in the spotlight to shine. This is called a solo. In business it could be a presentation of new idea, closing a deal or finding a cost savings. Give your employees space to demonstrate their unique contribution. In jazz, this creates competition among players to perform at their best. As Wynton explained to the audience, there are ten arrangers in the band (out of the 15 band members), and each one arranges music to highlight their instrument, which the others fully expect and support. Competition pushes people to innovate and exceed their own expectations.

3. Praise is necessary to the performance. And it’s free. In jazz, players are often rewarded in the moment by their conductor and peers. Wynton would frequently offer grunts, murmurs and encouraging shouts during a a player’s solo, eliciting nods of appreciation from the others.

As a manager of a start-up, don’t be afraid to single out people for innovation and excellence during the process as opposed to once you achieve a big goal. So often during start-up mode we are hustling fast and hard towards a long shot that may be months or a year down the road. We can be so laser-focused on the long term that we lose sight of the small successes happening right now, in the process. You need your team to be on tempo and in sync with you. Appreciate your talent in the moment. You’ll build team loyalty and that is a good thing.

You don’t have time for turnover anyways.